Reading an epitaph on a tomb—Here lies a politician and a good man—a tourist asked, “How are two men buried in the same grave?”
Can a politician be a good man; In the same vein, can a leader be a servant? Is “servant leader” a paradox?
Jesus overturned the misconceived notion of what it means to be a leader. He taught that a true leader is a servant of those under his charge. Commenting on the Jewish leadership of His time, He said: “So you should obey and follow whatever they tell you, but their lives are not good examples for you to follow. They tell you to do things, but they themselves don’t do them. They make strict rules and try to force people to obey them, but they are unwilling to help those who struggle under the weight of their rules. … Whoever is your servant is the greatest among you. Whoever makes himself great will be made humble. Whoever makes himself humble will be made great” (Matthew 23:1–4, 11–12, NCV).
But the popular image of a leader is hard to wipe away from our minds. A teacher asked the class what picture comes to their mind when they think of a leader. The students gave different replies—an American CEO, a Russian dictator, an African clan head, and an Indian maharaja or a combination of all these. A leader is generally portrayed as one who controls, rules over, intimidates and shouts at his subordinates; one who stays aloof, travels frequently (mostly by air); one who is secretive, bossy, dressed elite, etc.
Even among the Christians this idea of a leader—who throws his weight around—has gained deep acceptance. A young man took charge as a CEO in a Christian organization. With a glow on his face, he said: “I have carried my boss’ briefcase for last ten years. Now it is my turn to make others carry mine!”
Preacher Sam Kamaleson had taken note of it and said: “Christian life and ministry is taken as a ladder today. You want to climb higher. In trying to do so, you pull the leg of those above you; push aside those around you; and kick the ones below you. But once you reach the height, you realize that there is nothing but air. So, it is not important how high you climb. What matters is where the ladder is resting—the point where you met with Jesus, where God confronted you and you responded to His call, your connection, your relationship, your intimacy with Jesus…”
Jesus overturned the misconceived notion of what it means to be a leader. He taught that a true leader is a servant of those under his charge
Here’s a story of a young man who had found new life in Jesus. He had sensed God’s call for His service. So he had resigned from his government job and left his home. He was going for Bible training in South India Biblical Seminary. Having travelled over 2000 kilometers by train, he arrived at Bangarapet railway station. He flipped through his diary and dialed the seminary number. A pick-up van came. He showed his baggage to the driver who loaded it in and they drove on. The van brought this young would-be missionary to the seminary, and stopped at ‘Philadelphia’—men’s hostel. The driver picked up the heavy baggage and carried it to the room allotted to this young minister. As the driver turned to leave—maybe he had to make another trip—this young man thought of being polite and showing gratitude. He asked the driver: Brother, what is your name?” The driver replied, “I am Dr K P Mathai, principal of this seminary”, and left. The young man was stunned. He did four years of theological studies there. He did not remember most of the lectures and messages he sat through, but that demonstration of a ‘servant leader’ he could not forget. It has remained to become part of his life—his life style!
Coming back to the King of kings, the CEO of all CEOs, the Creator of the whole universe—our Lord Jesus Christ; He stooped down to wash and wipe His unworthy followers’ feet!
“So during the meal Jesus stood up and took off His outer clothing. Taking a towel, He wrapped it around His waist. Then He poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (John 13:4–5).
Christ himself said: “Whoever wants to become the first among you must serve all of you like a slave. In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many people.”
Is the leader within me listening? As a leader, my unwritten job description is to wear an apron and serve my teammates. Also, if I take pride and pleasure in being called a servant leader (because I perceive that I am a servant leader), then why do I get upset when someone treats me as servant?
Sometimes it is easy to serve others, but difficult to let others serve us. I think, it takes humility to receive service. Peter had similar problem. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? …No, you will never wash my feet” (John 13:6, 8).
Imagine Jesus Christ as a 21st-century leader. How would he demonstrate His servant-leadership?
Silas Balraj, Country Director of Compassion International, said in an interview to Christian Manager magazine: “Today, while the corporate world is returning to the servant leadership concepts, we seem to be leaving them.”
MentorLink International, a movement committed to develop Christ-like leaders, emphasizes transformational value shift in our leadership style. In which, one of the emphasis is on moving from power-based leadership to servant leadership. That means, shifting from leading primarily through position, power, and political influence—often relying on manipulation or organizational authority, a lack of trust and of empowering of others—to leading and influencing others through authentic relationship, integrity, and service; giving oneself to meet the needs of others and empowering them to succeed.